I watched with great interest a video by Dr Michael Greger on his Nutrition Facts YouTube channel – The Hispanic Paradox. In it he explained that despite many negative factors, Latinos living in the US have considerably greater longevity than either blacks or whites in the country. This is in the face of lesser opportunities in education, higher poverty rates and less access to healthcare. Hispanics have a 24% lower risk of premature death, and lower risks of 9 out of the leading 15 causes of death—notably less cancer and heart disease. So what is the reason behind this Hispanic Paradox?
Sure, genetics will play a role. But it is certainly not because they exercise more, as Hispanics appear to be even more sedentary than other Americans. They do smoke less however, but the paradox persists even after taking that into account. So the more that Dr Greger looked into it, the more diet became a major contributing factor, and one plant food in particular – beans. Although Hispanics only represent about 10% of the US population, they eat a third of the beans consumed, individually eating four to five times more beans per capita – a few pounds a month as opposed to a few pounds a year.
As Dr Greger explains, legumes – beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils – cool down systemic inflammation, which aids lung health. And here his medical background comes into play. While cigarette smoking and air pollution cause lung inflammation, which increases the risk for emphysema and lung cancer, when we eat beans, the good bacteria in our gut take the fibre and resistant starch and form small-chain fatty acids that are absorbed into our system and decrease systemic inflammation—which not only inhibits lung cancer development, but also other cancers throughout the body.
And when Hispanics do get lung cancer, or colon cancer, or breast cancer, they have improved survival rates, and maybe the same with heart attack and stroke survival. Decreasing whole body inflammation may be important for both prevention and survival. Hispanics also eat more corn, tomatoes, and chili peppers. Looking at cancer rates around the world, not only was bean consumption associated with less colon, breast, and prostate cancer, but also rice and corn consumption also appeared protectively correlated.
Hispanics in the US also eat more fruits and vegetables than other groups; about six or seven servings a day, although still don’t make the recommended minimum of nine servings (as advised by US medical authorities). And while Hispanics may only have half the odds of dying from heart disease, but it’s still their number one cause of death.
Ideally, we should all be eating even more whole plant foods. But one thing everyone can learn from the Hispanic experience is that along with a shift towards a more plant-based diet in general, beans may be potent tools in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. And of course beans come in a wide range of varieties – and we are not necessarily talking about the artificially sweetened baked beans that come out of cans. Black eyed, Pinto, Cannellini, Fava, Kidney and Chickpeas – the list is long.
So why not check out our recipes section for some great ideas on how to incorporate beans into your diet. It just may prove a lifesaver.